Nostalgia is in the air this summer – or on the bookshelves, anyway – with several new novels looking back at pivotal moments in their characters’ lives. First up is The Girls by Emma Cline (out 16th June, Chatto & Windus), a thrilling account of a teenager getting swept away by a mysterious cult in the summer of 1969. A loose retelling of the grim story of the Charles Manson cult and the series of murders that emanated from this, Cline’s version is fascinating and horrifying all at once. Evie is an impressionable 13-year-old with disinterested parents and few friends of her own, when she encounters a clutch of girls who offer her a glimpse of a different world. A world with no rules or responsibilities, a seductive existence of drugs and sex and freedom, but a world with more than a hint of menace and decay about it. Several decades on, Evie reminisces about those whirlwind months and how close she came to being swallowed up by the experience. It’s gritty, shocking and ever so readable; more than living up to the hype that greeted its initial sale.
Looking to steal One Day‘s place in your hearts is Alice Adams’ Invincible Summer (out now, Picador) a novel following four friends in the decades after they graduate from Bristol University. Eva becomes a banker in the moneyed nineties, while Benedict embraces domestic bliss, and artistic siblings Sylvie and Lucien drift through the decades. But is their friendship built to survive these changes? It’s not quite as compelling as David Nicholls’ bestseller, and the characters are also less sympathetic – I wasn’t entirely convinced they would’ve been such close friends to begin with – but the year-to-year structure makes it a pleasurable read, perfect for a hot afternoon in the garden.
Emma Straub’s Modern Lovers (out 30th June, Michael Joseph) offers a sardonic look at family, friendship and relationships, by way of a summer in the lives of restaurateur Zoe and her college bestie Elizabeth, both living in a trendy area of Brooklyn. Decades ago they and Elizabeth’s now-husband were in a band together – one that launched the career of a fellow student. Now nearing 50 and the parents of teenagers themselves, cracks are beginning to form in Elizabeth’s marriage, while Zoe is contemplating divorce and struggling to manage her wayward daughter Ruby. When a Hollywood producer approaches them seeking permission for a film about their college days – and their famous former friend’s rise and fall – they start looking back at their youth and contemplating how they became the adults they are. If you’ve read Straub’s wonderful The Vacationers, you’ll know she’s got a great eye for character and the minutiae of family strife. Funny and acerbic and full of insight into contemporary relationships, not to mention told from multiple perspectives, this is a little like a literary version of The Affair, right down to the Brooklyn setting.
The Muse, Jessie Burton’s second novel (out 30th June, Picador), is like her debut a historical tale, this time focusing on a woman in 1960’s London attempting to solve a mystery dating back to civil war era Spain. We meet Trinidadian emigrant Odelle Bastien as she takes on a job at a swanky London gallery. What she expects will be vaguely glamorous secretarial work turns into a role as an amateur sleuth, as she seeks to uncover the secrets both of a painting newly arrived at the gallery and of her self-possessed, mercurial manager, Marjorie Quick. Meanwhile, 30 years earlier and across the seas, talented teenager Olive Schloss is navigating everything from first love to friendship and her turbulent relationship with her mother. The Muse is not as compelling as The Miniaturist, but it’s still gripping and the story is elegantly crafted, drawing you in with every chapter. Burton has clearly done meticulous research, and the depictions of Odelle’s immigrant experience, and of Spain on the cusp of tragedy, are particularly striking.
If you’re looking for a compelling thriller to distract you on a long plane journey or keep you occupied on the beach (or simply fill that Girl on the Train hole in your life), The Woman In Cabin 10 (out 30th June, Harvill Secker) will do the trick. The follow up to In a Dark, Dark Wood, Ruth Ware’s ludicrously addictive debut about a blood-soaked hen party, this book follows Lo, an up and coming journalist on a work-perk luxury cruise. So far, so good, but when Lo witnesses what she thinks is a murder, her dream holiday becomes a race against time to find the perpetrator and save herself. It gave me nightmares – but only in the way a juicy thriller ought to do.
Lastly, if you prefer memoir to fiction, look no further than Mad Girl (out 7th June, Headline), Bryony Gordon’s follow up to the cringe-making tell-all The Wrong Knickers. It turns out that her first book wasn’t entirely tell all; not mentioned in it was the fact that Gordon has been dealing with mental illness for two decades. Mad Girl recounts that story, offering humour, honesty and camaraderie with those suffering in silence. It’s a funny, self-effacing look at depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder; what it isn’t is self-pitying. Gordon makes clear that these issues don’t define her, and don’t have to define you either. If you’ve ever personally dealt with a mental health crisis, Mad Girl is a breath of fresh air, a reminder that you can be ‘mad’ and still live a successful and happy life